There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus where the flabbergasted court composer Salieri tries to come up with a critique of the music of the new prodigy, Mozart. “Too many notes!” he proclaims to the sagely nodding members of the court. Well, at least when it comes to advertising, it seems like maybe Salieri had a point after all. The ad industry has gone all roccoco on us.
With today’s focus on accountablity, ROI and…frankly, it’s still mostly clicks… we’re really chasing a bunch of rabbits down dead-end holes. All the ad networks, data aggregators, DSPs, etc. promise ever-greater efficiency and returns - but each year the chorus “advertising is broken, advertising doesn’t work” grows louder. How can this be? Post-modernist thinkers like Doc Searles and Terry Heaton argue that the world has changed, “the people formerly known as the audience” have fundamentally changed, and you can’t just throw ads in front of people anymore. The traditional advertising model is broken beyond repair, they say (what exactly will replace it not so clear).
I actually agree with a lot of the critiques, but respectfully disagree with the fundamental conclusion. The real problem is a lot simpler and practical, less philosophical. The issue is “too many notes”, or in other words, CLUTTER. If a new targeting technology yields 30% response lift, while the supply of inventory grows 200%, that’s a net decrease in impact/effectiveness of 170% (I wasn’t so good at math, so the formula may be wrong but you’ll take my point).
If you’re typical web page had one big display unit (instead of 5-10), the impact and effectiveness of that ad would be orders of magnitude higher. Advertisers could invest more in the creative, and pay premiums for premium context (one of the biggest myths is that “audiences matter, content/context doesn’t”. Bullshit.). Audiences would not only not resent such an approach, we could actually start to revisit the days when ads were a valued part of the overall content experience. Win-win-win for audiences, advertisers and publishers.
I don’t know how we get there, but we have to slow down and reverse the explosion of supply and downward commoditization of online ad inventory. I’ve socialized the idea amongst fellow publishers that if the top 500 online publisher’s inventory and audience data were only available via direct deals (no networks), CPMs would skyrocket. Most agree. And as I’ve argued, audiences would also be big beneficiaries. So that leaves the advertisers (and the huge cottage industry of intermediaries and arbitragers that continues to grow and feed off the backs of publishers), as the skunks at the picnic. If only the advertisers would realize that this trajectory we are on serves no ones interests.
Audience data should facilitate effective advertising, not drive the whole process. When it comes to advertising, at a certain point, less becomes more. Reduce clutter. Understand the whole purchase funnel. Pay for real value…build partnerships with premium publishers. Think twice before adding inventory in urinals - let a guy take a piss in peace, for heaven’s sake.
Advertisers and publishers have to work together on this. We publishers aren’t blameless…we’ve allowed ourselves to become hooked on the heroin of remnant. But because $ are driving all of this, I think advertisers have to ask themselves harder questions about what they’re really investing in from a long term perspective. I would contend that at this point, they’re essentially investing in poisoning their own well.
I’ve decided to pay attention to second screen apps, but not allow myself to become distracted by them. Professionally, or personally. What the ultimate potential is is still unclear, but right now - let’s just say there are issues.
Start with the idea of a rich palette of parallel content, information, e/m-commerce and social streams aggregated for your lean-forward engagement while you attempt to enjoy your lean-back linear program consumption experience. The afternoon of the Super Bowl, I downloaded Viggle to try out during the pre-game and game coverage. About an hour before kick-off, I opened the app… it recognized what I was watching…VERY COOL! Then it asked me some trivia questions, which I answered. Some right, some wrong. It asked me to rate some commercials…fun. Some opinions about the game…everyone likes to root for/expound upon their team.
So far, so good. But about the end of the first quarter, the novelty was wearing off. Answering trivia questions was getting boring. Rating commercials maybe the most interesting idea, especially in the context of the Super Bowl, but while rating one commercial/checking back for results, I’d miss the next two commercials. And I quickly migrated directly to Twitter for the social piece. By halftime, I abandoned Viggle (forever, so far)… I missed big plays and cool commercials while monkeying with Viggle, and the pay-off in terms of fun/enhancement of the viewing experience wasn’t even close to sufficient to keep me engaged. Since that day, Viggle regularly tries to convince me to watch shows I have no interest whatsoever in - this ability for programmers to promote tune-in is probably the big USP (unique selling proposition) of Viggle, and for me anyway, it’s just an epic fail.
The parallel content idea, then, has some issues. I can see how highly selective, highly relevant parallel content is a good idea…I see a story about symptoms of a disease circulating in local schools, I can immediately see a complete list of symptoms, for example. Or products featured in commercials are immediately available for purchase via Amazon 1-click - cool. If I’m in the sports fanatic sub-segment of the sports-viewing sub-segment of the total population, real-time box scores as I watch the game is quite compelling (almost the only compelling demo example I’ve seen). But a rich palette of multiple aggregated related feeds? Not so sure.
Now set aside the whole “parallel content” idea. For now at least, I’m convinced that the real second screen focus for TV should be social. One of the great realities of social media is that TV programming & news are top topics of conversation. Strategic use of social media to drive tune-in and then engagement during the program has the potential to re-establish a strong reason to tune-in to the live linear presentation of a show (as opposed to DVR’ing it or watching later on Hulu or Netflix).
I’m not convinced that integrating social media into this “rich palette’ of parallel content is going to enhance our ability to develop these social strategies and experiences around our linear content. As a matter of fact, my instinct is that second screen apps may actually detract from those efforts. Complicate/clutter matters for users and distract TV programmers/promoters from the real prize - social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter). This is a really important point…do you want to push your second screen app/experience, or really drive your audience engagement via Facebook and Twitter? I’m not sure you can do the former without impeding the latter.
So I’m fascinated by second screen apps. Taking the pitches (seen a bunch, and new ones sprouting like weeds), playing with some of the apps, monitoring the literature…trying to keep an open mind. For now though, as the boss (Dennis Swanson) says, sometimes it’s better to be a settler than a pioneer. I think there’s a lot of programming (in the traditional TV sense) and U.I. work still to be done, and ultimately something coherent and worth really pushing may emerge. But I haven’t seen it yet.
Never say anything that might be controversial on Facebook. It’s like the old adage for cocktail parties..don’t bring up religion or politics. And ALWAYS be positive. My friend Chris Dessi makes this case very persuasively in his successful and very worthwhile e-book "Your World Is Exploding: How Social Media Is Changing Everything - And How You Need To Change With It". In other words, talk banalities and trivialities or relentless good news, or someone might not like it. Worse, they might “unfriend you”, or Facebook might bury your posts because they’re not popular.
OK, I get it. Since I approach social media both as anyone else would (for personal satisfaction, communication, socialization) as well as a digital media professional, I am very conflicted on this. For my professional interest in growing my “social graph” and influence, KISS is great advice. But personally, I find this depressing. I happen to be very interested in both politics and religion/spirituality - and my views are pretty eclectic. And I love to debate ideas…engage around them, examine assumptions…sometimes to the point of playing devil’s advocate. But if I indulge these proclivities, I’ll be unpopular. Result can be self-censorship (or you can say “to hell with it”, and post whatever you like and forego “friends” who can’t handle it).
But enough about me. Sociologically, and in terms of the body politic, I think it’s very sad that we’ve come to this. If you can’t discuss religion or politics (or if you do, post only what’s consistent with groupthink), and always be positive…how do we encounter new ideas and points of view? How do we learn to respect them? How do we as a society come to grips with serious problems (economy, education, healthcare, ideological domination of politics, etc)? As a society, immersed as we are in celebrity culture, entertainment, etc., have we completely lost the ability to be serious?
Social media is a platform… a box in the corner of the public square you can stand on and say whatever you choose. Do you choose to be “safe”, innocuous and entertaining, or do you sometimes want to provoke real thought and engage in a real discussion? Social media as a platform does not innately favor either approach…it is the peopleware that makes those determinations. Social Media can be a catalyst for growth in human knowledge and consciousness, or it can accelerate the dumbing down of our culture. I hope we can keep an open mind about these issues. And please don’t unfriend me. Pretty please? Oh look - a squirrel on waterskis!
No one likes paying for cable. But the rise of the pay-TV business model led to the revolution in quality we’re currently enjoying from HBO shows like Thrones, as well as basic-cable programs like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Years ago, when channels only received revenue from advertising, they made shows to reach as many people as possible, whether viewers loved them or just tuned in because they happened to be on. Cable changed those incentives, rewarding the creation of shows viewers felt strongly enough to pay for (indirectly in the case of channels like FX and AMC). That made nuanced drama profitable on television—and the best television more sophisticated than film. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.NO ONE LIKES PAYING FOR CABLE. BUT THE RISE OF THE PAY-TV BUSINESS MODEL LED TO THE REVOLUTION IN QUALITY WE’RE CURRENTLY ENJOYING FROM HBO SHOWS LIKE THRONES.
Shows like Game of Thrones cost big bucks. Each episode of the first season reportedly had a budget of more than $5 million. Most such shows don’t attract all that many viewers compared to cheaper mainstream programs like American Idol. And if Game of Thrones sounds like easy money, remember that it has to generate enough profit to make up for Romeand John From Cincinnati. If HBO sold every show by the episode right away, it would have to charge a premium for hits to make up for its inevitable misses
[“GCB”] probes its viewers to pick a side; if you really must, go with the Latinos who wait on the show’s principal jerks. They are, at best, the butt of jokes, making a series that would merely be insufferable ultimately despicable.
Today on the way home from work I stopped in at Olivier & Co in Grand Central and bought a $66 33 oz tin of olive oil. And so begins a new topic for me to blog about - what I anticipate will be a keen new interest. As I go, I will explain why, and tell you about a book I read recently that got me started on this…suffice it to say that I suddenly realized I had probably never tasted really good olive oil. Stick with me and I’ll explain why there’s a good chance you haven’t either, and why you should want to. Or, this sudden keen interest will wane - oh look, a squirrel! In the meantime though I’m quite excited to have a new interest to blog about and share. My online/social media footprint so far has been pretty much focused on my profession (digital media) but now… Time for something completely different! Oh, the actual tab for my visit to the store today came to over $100 - picked up an outstanding balsamic vinegar and an insanely delicious little jar of truffled sea salt…just a few grains on your tongue… This could get expensive! Stay tuned.
Tree-lined Upper East Side street in Winter. New York City
Summer slumbers deeply. Tree limbs stripped bare remain vulnerable to the sky’s attempts to stir them from their dreaming state.
It’s when the sky caresses and seduces the earth with its snowy proclamations of love that the earth transforms into a somnambulist navigating the boundary between sleep and dreaming: dreaming its dreaming self awake slowly.
View this photo larger and on black on my Google Plus page
Fantastic NYC pics!
I’m really not following the ins and outs of the Solyndra “scandal”, to the extent there’s a suggestion possible misdeeds/borderline misdeeds. To me Solyndra is emblematic of the problem of government-driven industrial policy. Didn’t work for the Soviet Union, won’t work here either. Now, if you really believe green technology is important…and I do, mostly for national security reasons but not oblivious to the environment… you need to think through how to formulate policies to speed it along (if there’s nothing there at all to accelerate, it’s probably a bad idea). In the case of solar energy, for example, the big issue is lack of consumer demand. We’d put solar panels on our house if it wasn’t so expensive. So, use policy/$ if you must, to get more consumers to shop for panels. If Solyndra can’t figure out then how to build a business around that, they shouldn’t be in business.
The auto bailouts felt the same way to me. If you want people to buy the Chevy Volt, make it easier for them to do so (if they still don’t, you’re barking up the wrong tree).
So my modest proposal is that if we as a society wish to see certain trends/industries emerge, we focus on creating demand and incentivizing businesses and consumers, as opposed to penalizing “bad” businesses and trying to pick winners.